Will the "Yes Minister" culture of the civil service frustrate the alleged political aims of the Chancellor Lord Falconer, overseeing the Department of Constitutional Affairs, with respect to the deliberatly delayed Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was passed over 5 years ago, but which only comes into force tomorrow, January 1st 2005 ?
However, in order to test just how well this new era of "Open Government" (the title of the very first "Yes Minister" programme in February 1980) we would like some suggestions for suitable Freedom of Information Act requests, which we will submit to the relevant Government Departments, and monitor their progress via a blog, and comment on just how meaningful or detailed the Government responses actually are in practice.
It is interesting that the "Sir Humphrey Appleby" at the the Department of Constitutional Affairs i.e. the Permananet Secretary (or at least one of them)
is none other than the former E-Envoy Alex Allan, who certainly knows a thing or two about where the Government's computerised data is buried.
Ironically, Alex Allan was actually the real life "Bernard Wooley" character, i.e. Private Secretary to both John Major and Tony Blair.
The long run in period should have been enough for the civil service to train up and devote sufficient resources to being able to deal with FOIA requests from the public, which is why we were sceptical about the stories of "shredding of documents" or "deletion of emails" in the run up to Christmas. One would have thought that the procedures for hiding sensitive information from the public would have been honed to perfection over the last 5 years. Is there really any need to store multiple copies of email spam and viruses, which, no doubt, the civil service email systems are as full of as every other large organisation ?
There are numerous exemptions to the FOIA, as outlined by the overworked Office of the Information Commissioner, who now also has to deal with FOIA as well as Data Privacy etc., and of course you are free to submit your own requests (no fees are being charged at present).
As we are not professional journalists , chasing a commerciaal scoop, we welcome any simultaneous publication of information which we request, but not, obviously, any extra spin and disinformation which accompanies it.
If the Government handles this FOIA process properly, they might just regain some of the public trust which they have lost through their spin and disinformation antics - we live in hope.